Photo Credit: Elchanan Poupko for JewishPress.com
Marching for Solidarity against anti-Semitism in New York on Jan. 5 2020

The lights of the menorah were shining bright, and Klal Yisroel was celebrating freedom and victory over those who sought to destroy us emotionally and physically. In the time of Chanukah, the Yevonim created laws prohibiting us from practicing our religion openly and freely. Today we celebrate just that: We are proud to be Jews. We light the candles in areas where they will be seen to display our pride in Judaism, the Torah, and mitzvos.

But this year, while we were celebrating, a feeling of darkness descended upon us. We are being targeted daily by hateful mobsters who want to do us harm solely because we are Jews. During the very days that celebrate our pride in our heritage, we have been terrorized into fear and uncertainty designed to dampen that pride.

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We heard about horrific attacks every day of Chanukah. Every day another person was attacked just for being a yid. The hate, the terror, was continuously growing. We were running scared, crying for help. Our yearning for peace and justice seemed to fall on deaf ears. Politicians and elected officials did nothing but tweet, and we all felt helpless.

But then it happened. Motzei Shabbos, while we were all lighting the seventh light, a terrorist entered the home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg in Monsey with a machete and starting viciously attacking those attending the candle-lighting ceremony. While most of the guests scrambled to get out of harm’s way, one hero, Yosef Gluck, managed to get hold of a table and impede the attacker, who fled in his car. He was later caught miles away in New York City. This tragic incident left five wounded and many more shaken, unable to grasp what had just happened. All of Klal Yisroel watched closely, terrified, also unsure what to think.

It is time for those who can to take action. The question on everyone’s mind is: What can be done? What can we or anyone do about deranged individuals from all walks of life who are out there, with hate directing their next move? What should we expect from our politicians?

As a starting point, I would divide the attacks into two categories. Group A, as I’ll call it, are the minor hate crimes – when an attacker harasses an innocent passerby, whether by punching or beating or knocking the person’s hat off. This category also includes minor incidents like spray-painting swastikas. Group B are the more serious ones – the stabbing attacks and shootings. These acts are all despicable, terrible, and horrifying. But they are different and deserve different reactions.

Usually, the Group A crimes are done by teen thugs who love to see their art on the news. They earn street credit when the mayor or governor tweets about their actions. It is a game played by youngsters to make them look big, like any bully in school. And like bullies in school, they always target the most vulnerable in the crowd, knowing their acts will be seen as most intimidating, while the risk of getting hurt in return is zero to none. It is fun and enticing. That’s why they’re doing it. Not so much because of hate. They use anti-Semitic propaganda to justify their actions. They target Jews because they’re being taught that we’re at fault for their problems.

Another reason they do it is because they can get away with it. With the new progressive liberal laws taking effect across this city and state, many criminals are immediately released without bail. In one recent incident, a woman named Tiffany Harris was charged with assault for slugging a 35-year-old Jewish woman in Crown Heights while shouting anti-Semitic slurs in her face. She was arrested, but sent home for dinner! The next day she was arrested again for hitting another person. The laws are insane.

America’s mayor, Rudy Giuliani, blasted Bill de Blasio on Twitter, citing his appalling record on anti-Semitism. After the infamous killing of Ari Halberstam while he was mayor, Giuliani tackled this issue head-on, making it an essential part of his tenure. Giuliani wrote of the current situation, “We can’t ignore a dozen or so acts of violence and let it slide. These people shouldn’t be released without bail. These individuals are a threat to citizens.”

Giuliani called on the Mayor to reinstate one if his own core policies, famously known as the Broken Window Theory. Under this approach, the NYPD investigates even the smallest crimes, such as rocks thrown through a window. When the perpetrators are caught, it often turns out that they have outstanding warrants along with longer criminal records. Those who don’t have prior convictions are booked, and thus will have profiles in the system which can be helpful in identifying them if and when they later commit more serious crimes.

What else can be done to stop the attacks? First, we have to be proactive rather than reactive. We must lobby and demand from lawmakers and all elected officials that those committing even these “minor” hate crimes face harsher punishments. By doing so, we will see how quickly it’ll end. Along with that, those who are able-bodied mustn’t be so intimidated and vulnerable. We must learn to stand our ground. Those who don’t feel they can fight back should learn to protect themselves. I don’t necessarily mean arming ourselves with weapons and ammunition, though that might be a good idea. Many of us might not be comfortable carrying a gun or shooting someone, even in the event of an attack. Besides, in New York City, it is quite difficult to obtain a license to carry a gun. Therefore, we must protect ourselves with defensive tools which are legal in New York, such as pepper spray, tasers, and stun guns. They’re not lethal but they’ll most likely diffuse an attacker.

Yelling for help is the most important way to attract attention during an attack. Some communities used to have a code word called “chaptzem.” When one was being attacked, all he had to do was yell “chaptzem!” and everyone in the neighborhood would respond immediately. The attacker would be apprehended and arrested. Why has it stopped? Why are we so scared that we’re even afraid to yell for help? We need the community to come together.

Furthermore, while having the police investigate each and every incident regardless how small it may seem (and hoping the authorities take action), we should not concede to the one thing fueling this most: social media. We must completely pull the plug on all media reporting these incidents. Politicians tweeting about hate crimes are doing so to benefit their own political careers. A thug committing a crime to earn credibility and respect from his peers gets it so much more when he sees the video of his hideous attack on a helpless Jewish child being distributed all over. In other words, by circulating the videos on Twitter, along with tweets by prominent people, we are amplifying the purpose of the assault. This must stop. Even spreading these things in private group chats is wrong.

We must also ask why there has been so much hate coming from the African-American community against the Jewish community recently. As one pastor, Dumisani Washington, put it, there are prominent people spreading hate and lies about our community amongst their community. They’re blaming many of their problems on us, some quite absurd – like the council member Trayon White, Sr. from Washington, D.C. who blamed a late winter snowfall on a family of Jewish bankers. These claims go to crazy extents and people believe them.

There are people like Louis Farrakhan openly spewing hate against the Jewish people, comparing us to termites and getting away with it. There’s a militant group called the Black Hebrew Israelites which was responsible for the New Jersey massacre against innocent Jewish people. There are imams openly preaching Jew-hatred in mosques across America. Anti-Israel politicians, like Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and activist Linda Sarsour, back the infamous BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement against Israel. All of them are partially responsible for the recent spike in anti-Semitic hate crimes. So often we see that those politicians who are against Israel are truly against all Jews and not just Israel.

The way the media reports crimes against Jews, and the way they depict Jews in general, plays a large roll in this as well. We must lobby all we can to change that. Violence against Jews is always portrayed as a white nationalist problem, but the recent chain of events proves otherwise. Almost all of the recent attacks have been perpetrated by non-whites.

Black radio host Larry Elder made some interesting observations on the current situation. “The reason for all this anti-Semitism coming from the black community against the Jewish community stems from ignorance,” he said, adding that many African-Americans don’t know the relationship our two communities have, and the role many Jews played in the civil right movement and as freedom-fighters. Elder notes that a famous Jewish lawyer named Jack Greenberg helped Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall come up with a strategy to win Brown v. Board of Education, ending segregation in public schools, and that Jews helped found the NAACP legal defense fund.

He explains that African-Americans are constantly being told that Jews are becoming wealthy by exploiting them. That message comes from leaders such as Al Sharpton, Louis Farrakhan, Jessie Jackson, and any more. Many of them say hideously anti-Semitic things and they have thousands of followers. Elder claims that about a third of African-Americans are anti-Semitic, which is astounding if it is true.

The answer to all this, Elder says, is spreading the truth and positive messages about the Jewish people, including our ties with the African-American community and the truth about Israel. We must counter the lies that are constantly being told by those so-called leaders. Elected officials like Ilhan Omar saying Jews are all about the Benjamins is the epitome of hate and anti-Semitism.

Sadly, the black community at large is greatly suffering because of high crime rates, and poverty is everywhere. They’re looking at us as if we have all the money in the world. To them we are the realtors, the bankers, the brokers, the doctors, and the lawyers. Many of unaware that we too are struggling tremendously to live day by day. While selling goods to deli stores in the Bronx and Harlem, I was asked daily if I had an apartment for rent. Locals constantly approached me asking for housing and money, as if I owned the town. These are just examples of the misinformation that is out there about our community which must be dealt with head-on.

Anti-Israel activism on college campuses is a part of the problem as well. So often we hear of professors speaking freely against Israel and the Jews, while students are brutally attacked and ridiculed for being Jewish or supporting Israel. Having an anti-Israel and anti-Jewish curriculum on campuses is toxic.

Now let’s discuss the Group B crimes – the more sinister ones, like the ones in Jersey City and Poway, and now in Monsey. These acts of violence and hatred are way more complicated to combat. Violence is unfortunately the norm, as radicals kill innocent people across America daily, just as we saw last Sunday in Texas. A shooter entered a church and killed two people before being killed by a heroic security guard. The many gun violence attacks we see every year in bars, churches, and even schools must be tackled from the bottom up.

We must not make this a partisan issue. Anti-Semitism isn’t politics. The moment this becomes an issue of you vs. me, this party vs. the other, this culture or race vs. another, any proposal is dead on arrival and the problem will never be solved. As long as there is division there will be competition, jealousy, and hate.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal wrote, “After the hateful attacks in Jersey City, Brooklyn, and Monsey, it’s easy to feel helpless. However, the reality is that there are things we can do to stem this riding tide of hate and anti-Semitism.” The AG then proceeded to name several important things which could be done to improve the situation. First, law enforcement agencies must commit resources to investigate bias crimes. Not just headline-grabbing incidents, but smaller acts that serve as warning signs. Next, everyone, but especially elected officials and media personnel, must be more responsible in the words they use. We need to recognize that our statements affect others. Comments lead to conduct.

Grewal also said that we must examine how we respond to bias incidents in our schools. The slap on the wrist isn’t working. We need to figure out the best ways to make it clear to kids that hateful acts are simply unacceptable. Adding to that, Grewal says that school curricula should be improved. Are we doing enough to teach our students how to be more thoughtful about others? Are we equipping them with tools they need to reject hateful ideologies? This is very important, as young kids may be exposed to hateful ideas on social media platforms, and ideologies are easily shaped.

Grewal also called on social media platforms to take action, and to be held accountable for enabling hate speech. Ultimately, he concluded, responsibility falls on the parents, who must talk to their kids about avoiding hate on the Internet and in person the same way they warn them about other online dangers and predators.

As we campaign on behalf of peace, love, understanding, and unity for the Jewish people, it is our core responsibility not to blame a specific group. Calling out individuals is OK, but never a group, because then you lose the support of that entire group and others. Take “Democrats are anti-Semites” as an example. By making that general statement, you instantly deter 120,000,000 Americans from joining your battle. This is the reason we may never have an answer to gun violence and many other national issues. Let’s not make anti-Semitism another one of those unsolved topics.

We pray to Hashem that may we never again feel pain or fear. May the light of the menorah shine brightly upon us all with the coming of Moshiach in our time.

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